WHSAA cancels spring sports season

Last year’s Lady Rangers 4x800 relay team — Sophie Failoni, Jillian Tibbets, Sydnie Julander and Sammi Butler — won the state title in that event, and were poised to make another run at it this season before spring sports were canceled. Also pictured is head coach Phil Thatcher. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Lady Rangers were poised to make run at state championships

KEMMERER — In an unprecedented — though not entirely unexpected — turn of events, the Wyoming High School Activities Association made the decision Tuesday afternoon to cancel the 2020 spring sports season due to ongoing concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Kemmerer High School track and field team, the decision brings to an end the Rangers’ final season at the Class 2A level before it even began — KHS will make the jump to Class 3A in most sports beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

“I looked at my email about 4 p.m. [Tuesday afternoon] and there it was,” said KHS head track coach Phil Thatcher. “We understand why it had to happen, why they had to cancel it. But even though we agree with it from a public safety standpoint, it’s just hard — especially for the seniors. They gear up for that final performance, and now they don’t get that shot.”

With over 40 athletes out for track this season, Thatcher said the teams were shaping up to be a force at regionals and state. The Lady Rangers especially were primed to make a run at a state title, after finishing third last season with just eight athletes on the roster. The girls won gold in both the 4x800 (Sammi Butler, Sydnie Julander, Sophie Failoni, Jillian Tibbetts) and the 1600 sprint medley (Sammi Butler, Laurel Clarke, Marisa Orcutt, Kenley Plowman), setting the state record in the latter; both relay teams were back for another go this season.

“We had a lot of high expectations this year, especially with our girls,” Thatcher said. “Our girls placed third last year at state, and we only graduated one senior [hurdler Brooklynn Hagler]. We had everyone else back.”

Junior Marisa Orcutt advanced to the state finals in the 100 and 200 meters last season, while senior Sammi Butler placed fourth in the 1600 meters at state as a junior. Junior Kenley Plowman is the defending state champion in the triple jump; senior Teryn Thatcher finished runner-up at state in the triple jump the past two seasons.

“For such a small crew, they did a great job for us [last season],” Thatcher said. “We had 18 girls come out for the team this season, so we were in a good spot. We’d been talking about this season for a whole year.”

The boys’ team finished eighth at state last year, but lost a couple of key seniors heading into the 2020 season. A total of 24 boys came out for the team this season — Thatcher was looking at junior A.Q. Martinez and sophomore Quinten Rosas to lead the team in the sprint events, as both competed at state last year. State qualifier Tyson McKane was back for his sophomore season to take a run at the podium in hurdles.

“We [were] a young team, with just a couple of seniors,” he said. “We were hoping — especially in our final season at 2A — to make a statement about what kind of athletes we have over here. We knew we had two or three kids that were probably going to state this year, but we were hoping for a few surprises as well — maybe another four or five boys to bring along with us.”

Junior Aaron Ortiz was expected to have a strong season in the throwing events after finishing 14th and 13th at state in the shot put and discus, respectively.

“Aaron is a big, strong kid, and we were looking forward to seeing him do some good things,” Thatcher said. “We have a bunch of younger kids that are kind of a catch-all — they’ll do whatever we ask them to do.”

The 2020 season will now go in the books as the season of ‘What ifs,’ a tough pill to swallow for the athletes who have worked so hard to get to this point — especially the seniors.

“The lesson is, you take advantage of the opportunities in front of you — you don’t know if they’re going to come around again,” Thatcher said. “Hopefully we learn that, and become better people because of it.”

KHS coaches are still sending workouts to their athletes, as several have expressed a desire to keep working with an eye toward next season.

“There are several kids that still want to work out and try to get in a little development going into next year,” Thatcher said. “We’re going to still work and try to get what we can out of it, and hopefully be better for it next year.”

If there is a bright spot to be found in all of this for the Rangers and Lady Rangers, it’s that quite a few athletes have at least one more year to compete; the teams are losing some talented seniors (including Thatcher’s daughter Teryn, who placed second in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump at state last season), but there is a strong group of underclassmen waiting in the wings.

“We’ll miss a couple of key seniors, a couple of big point-getters,” Thatcher said. “One of them is my daughter — she was pretty jacked to go compete for a state title. But you learn, and you move on. We’ll definitely miss those seniors, but hopefully we can get those young girls to come out again next year who were pretty antsy to compete this year.”

As for the jump to class 3A next season, Thatcher said he believes the Rangers and Lady Rangers can compete at that level, though they’ll be among the smallest schools in that class.

“I think if we keep working hard, we can go in there and turn some heads,” he said. “Both of my predecessors [at head coach] did a great job with the program, and I was just hoping to keep it going in the same direction. Kemmerer has competed very well over the last five years, especially at the 2A level. So we’ll see how we do at 3A next year.”

This season was to be Thatcher’s first at the helm of the KHS track teams, after five years as an assistant. He’s a familiar face in Kemmerer athletics, however, having coached just about every sport that uses either a ball or a track during his 17-year coaching career. He also served as activities director for four years before stepping down last year.

“I’ve been on the staff of varsity football, I’ve been an assistant and then the head basketball coach for both the boys and the girls and I’ve coached just about every middle school sport, except for wrestling and swimming,” he explained. “I love coaching, and most of my kids have been involved in sports. I kind of backed off a little bit in the past few years to spend more time with my family. But I stay busy and contribute where I can.”

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